(April 21, 2013) -- With the Sweden versus U.S. tie hanging in the balance, U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez went with the experience of the Williams Sisters to lift her team to victory in the World Group playoffs in Delray Beach, Florida.
Tied at 1-1 heading into the second day, the U.S. team expected a dominant performance from World No. 1 Serena Williams
over Sofia Arvidsson
and they were not disappointed. Though Williams appeared to play at times near fifty percent of her true level, it was certainly enough as she faced little resistance from Arvidsson.
Williams hit 35 winners and rained down 10 aces to complete a 6-2, 6-1 win in under and hour. That gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead and forced Captain Fernandez to make a tough decision.
Though Sloane Stephens
was scheduled to play Johanna Larsson
in the second reverse singles rubber, Fernandez instead chose to go with the experience of Venus Williams
. That decision would allow the elder Williams to play singles in Fed Cup for the first time since 2007.
Despite being broken to start the match, Williams recovered the break and soon lifted her game over Larsson. Williams took the first set 6-3 and when she earned a break of serve midway through the second set to go up 4-3, the finish line looked well in sight.
But it wouldn't be that easy for Williams in the final few games. Williams took a slight fall in the next game and that seemed to rattle her as she served for the match later at 5-4. Williams threw in three nervous looking double faults to give the game away, but Larsson then allowed herself to be broken again for 6-5.
The final game proved to be a mini-marathon as Williams jumped out to a 40-15 lead on her serve but soon found herself at deuce. With her back seeming to be an issue, Williams was forced to arm in multiple serves and could never quite close out Larsson despite having multiple match points.
With the crowd and Fernandez urging her on, Williams hit a big forehand Larsson couldn't handle on the eighth match point to seal the 6-3, 7-5 win and thus extend the U.S. lead to 3-1. It marked the first time Venus Williams had clinched a deciding point for the U.S. in her 14 year Fed Cup career.
The U.S. team later forfeited the remaining doubles rubber due to injury. That made the final tie score 3-2 in favor of the U.S. and sent the team back into the World Group next year.